Waste 2024 Conference: Circular economy and the Dutch experience

Waste 2024 conference

Joan Prummel has more than 10 years’ experience stimulating and accelerating the international circular economy. A keynote speaker at the Waste 2024 Conference, he offers a unique perspective on the industry.

As a program manager, Joan Prummel has been involved in implementing a circular economy in the daily operations of the Dutch national government since 2010. Later, he became the first category manager for waste management contracts for the government and was one of the original founders of the European learning networks on circular economy that simultaneously stimulated local implementation and accelerated international development, using (public) procurement power as a lever.

Joan’s primary assignment is accelerating the international uptake of circular economy in and outside Europe. As a program manager for international collaborations and partnerships, he works on creating awareness of circular opportunities, accelerating their implementation, developing partnerships, programs and projects that support the implementation of circular principles, and stimulating ecosystem collaboration (designer-producer-(re)user-recycler) and international exchange of knowledge and experiences. 

Circular solutions

waste 2024 conference
Joan Prummel will be a keynote speaker at the Waste 2024 Conference. Image: Paul Voorham/paulvoorham.nl

In the Netherlands, the circular economy is seen as an essential approach to positively contribute to global issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Systemic changes are needed to mitigate the negative impact of a linear economy and use resources in the smartest possible way.

“The Netherlands is among the front runners in implementing circularity,” Joan says. “When we look at the flows of raw material moving in and out of our economy, the Circularity Gap Report describes the Dutch economy as about 25 per cent circular. The Netherlands is in a relatively good position when we compare that to the global average of 8.6 per cent, but we are a long way from being fully circular.

“The national aim of the Netherlands is to have an economy ‘within planetary boundaries’ by 2050,” he says. 

“We still have a long way to go. Therefore, we are implementing a comprehensive National Circular Economy Programme that translates the broad circular ambitions to specific policies and measures in a broad range of sectors of our economy.”

The appeal of circular economic thinking is that it looks at sustainable development through an economic lens. The Dutch (and European) view considers circular economy a systemic approach to tackle global issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. 

“A circular economy stimulates innovation in all sectors of the economy, both in products and technologies as in processes and alliances,” says Joan. “Specifically, start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can benefit from the transition to circularity.”

Systemic change

Joan points out that the circular economy is not waste management 2.0.

“It’s a systemic change of the whole economic system (in the end),” he says. “Circular waste management means that the waste management industry is shifting from collection and landfill or incineration to collection and separation and recycling. It also means a change in disposed material flows.”

Products designed for circularity use less materials and have a longer useful life. The used materials are easily separated for recycling at the end of the product’s life. This means slower and maybe smaller cycles for the waste management industry but with better recyclable materials of higher value. It will be a slow change because waste collection and proper disposal are needed while building a future-proof infrastructure for separation and recycling.

International collaboration

In the eyes of Joan, international collaboration is essential for at least two reasons.

“Global value chains play a crucial role in the transition towards a circular economy,” he says. 

“In our interconnected world, you can only be circular if you actively collaborate with your supply chains. This creates exciting opportunities for like-minded trading partners, such as Australia and the Netherlands.”

Furthermore, the circular economy will substantially contribute to global issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. However, it will only deliver these desired impacts if circularity develops to a massive international scale. Individual small-scale innovations and improvements are essential, but they need scaling up to create volumes leading to global impact.

“Being circular in isolation does not make sense,” says Joan. “That’s particularly the case when you have a country two-thirds the size of Tasmania. That’s why collaboration is vital to learning and sharing. Working together to avoid new pitfalls reminds the industry that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

“Every municipality is different. However, we can work towards the same aims from those differences. Collaboration accelerates learning, as does sharing best practices. To support collaborative learning, we support local learning networks in Europe, the so called Green Deals. They facilitate the sharing of learnings and best practices.  Furthermore, we developed the national platform ‘Circular Accelerator’ for sharing experiences and connecting people and organisations. Both instruments are open to public and private organisations.”

The Australian experience 

Creating a collaborative environment is one of the most important things for progressing a global circular economy.

“We want industries, governments and knowledge institutions to work together to develop a step-by-step model for driving the transition,” Joan says. “Producers and retailers will need to change the design of products and their business models. The goal will be to support products with a longer useful life and better end-of-life recycling. 

“Similarly, users and consumers will change their behaviours accordingly. This will require the waste management sector to consider how this impacts them. The industry must be an equal and active partner to this collaborative discussion, avoiding being blindly dependent on whatever the pace of change will be.”

Looking at the situation in Australia, Joan believes that time is one of the biggest and most important barriers. Political will and matching policies can consume a lot of time to develop a great idea.

It then takes a lot of time and effort to implement systemic changes, he says. “You have to look at the harmonising instruments that align with policies and ambition, such as procurement policies and subsidies.”

When looking at the Dutch models, one of the main activities at a national level is having the private sector involved at the earliest opportunity.

“When we drafted the first national plan for the circular economy in 2016, we decided to work from five priority sectors, the so-called ‘transition agendas,” Joan says. “They were biomass, food, plastics, manufacturing, construction, and consumer goods. Not all were real business sectors, but we invited representatives from businesses, knowledge institutions and non-profit organisations to develop agendas around these priorities. These collaborations still exist, although in different forms.”

waste 2024 conference
A plastics sorting facility is contributing to circular economy outcomes. Image: Dutch Government

Circular procurement 

Procurement as a cross-cutting process is one of the most logical, direct, and visible extensions of vision and ambition when a government or company wants to improve its environmental, social and governance.

“Public procurement, as a policy instrument, can drive change,” Joan says. 

“Governments can steer and stimulate suppliers by their demand to produce and create better-designed products and circular business models that match their policies and aims. If Australia truly wants to adopt a circular economy that delivers on climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, a global approach is needed. It will be a long and bumpy ride, but if we really want to contribute, the stronger economies need to do a big chunk of the hard work. They need to explore innovations, implement them, and then scale them up to a substantial level for global use. Exporting knowledge, experience, and solutions to the so-called ‘Global South’ will support investment in those solutions.”

Coffs Harbour Conference

As a keynote speaker at the Waste 2024 Conference, Joan believes that any conference or summit is an important platform for exchanging ideas, experiences, and knowledge. “New and different approaches to waste management are being shared and discussed at all these events, including their supporting technologies and solutions,” he says.

“Conferences such as Coffs Harbour can show how to bridge the gap between holistic ambitions and practical measures. Hopefully, it will inspire governments at all levels to consider the circular economy as part of the solution towards a sustainable country.”

The circular economy envoy from the Netherlands will speak on a range of topics at Coffs Harbour.

You can see Joan Prummel at the Waste 2024 Conference which will be held from 14-16 May at Opal Cove Resort. 

For more information, visit: coffswasteconference.com.au/2024

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